Hello cowboys and cowgirls! I have some exciting news to share with you! Recently, I went to a workshop to start the process for my ESMHL Certification. ESMHL stands for Equine Specialist in Mental Health and Learning. Once I finish my certification, it gives me the ability to run EAAT (equine-assisted activities and therapy) sessions in partnership with an educator and/or mental health professional.
ESMHL sessions differ from therapeutic riding in a few ways – they are typically unmounted, they require an educator or mental health professional, and they cater to a different population. ESMHL mental health sessions are a form of therapy. They can usually be billed to insurance companies as a typical therapy session. ESMHL education sessions are a unique way to engage students in active learning.
PATH International has all the requirements to become an equine specialist outlined in the link above, but one big piece of it is attending the ESMHL workshop. The workshop focuses on becoming an equine specialist, but many mental health professionals also attend. I was pleasantly surprised to see how many people were brand new to PATH! The people in my workshop were about half-and-half with horse people and mental health professionals (many of whom also had horse experience).
The workshop is a combination of classroom work, role plays, and horse work. It is three intense days of learning. This work can be mentally and emotionally draining and this weekend was definitely both of those for me. That said, I absolutely loved it.
I won’t go in to too many details on the actual workshop and the teachings, but one thing we discuss is the Diamond Model for sessions. The Diamond Model means that each session includes the horse, client, Equine Specialist, and mental health or educator. The horse is treated as an equal partner in this relationship, which is something I absolutely love about this EAAT work. In therapeutic riding, sometimes we need to “use” a horse because of the specific client needs. In ESMHL work, we can usually “work with” the horse as a partner in the session.
Next steps for me include getting my practicum hours. PATH requires 80 hours of education in the equine-facilitated field. They break down these hours into easy chunks and the hours count from any time, but it can still be daunting! PATH provides a long timeframe to complete the hours after getting through the ESMHL workshop but I am excited to start.
I’ll keep you updated on my ESMHL progress and please let me know if you have any questions. I hope this helps get your feet wet on some information about becoming a PATH certified equine specialist.